The story begins with a chance encounter between two old high school friends. One confronts the other about a tragic accident that occurred the last time they were together. They retire to a local bar to discuss the past and in the process begin to unravel the mystery that is alluded to. Neither identity is revealed at this time.
CHAPTER 1 - THE DROWNING A young immigrant boy is rescued from a flood-swollen river by two adolescent toughs, Cal Harding and Morris Stratton, who are "harpooning" debris in a restricted area beside a dangerous weir. Fearing trouble from the police, they take the boy to old lady Patterson's to dry out. When she doesn't let them in right away, Stratton high-tails it around to the back of the house and minutes later admits Cal and the shivering boy. Once inside, Cal and Stratton draw a hot bath for the youngster and attempt to dry his clothes on an old wood burning stove in the kitchen. Old lady Patterson is nowhere to be seen and the chapter ends with the pair entering the bathroom to retrieve the boy, "...and that's when the whole thing goes to hell."
CHAPTER 2 - FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE ARENA The action picks up three years later. Hockey-jock Dave Mitchell contemplates the reported drowning of the young immigrant boy in light of another recent accident at the deadly weir. Dave is on his way to Friday night skating, a teen ritual in '60s small town Ontario. At the Torrington rink we are introduced to Dave's girlfriend Susan Franks along with primary protagonists, including budding musicians Ray Stephens and Blake Stuart, and antagonist Morris Stratton now the town's major hood along with his gang of "greasers". The highlight of the night involves the commandeering of the arena P.A. system by a group of rock and roll enthusiasts while the chapter climaxes with a brawl between Stratton's gang and the good guys. Blake Stuart emerges as the hero for single-handedly beating two of the gang members. Cal is caught between the two camps and in obvious turmoil. Dave Mitchell observes the peculiar relationship between Stratton and Cal and decides to dig deeper. Dave's girlfriend Susan leaves the Arena in a huff.
CHAPTER 3 - TORRINGTON HIGH The scene shifts to Torrington High School the following Monday morning. Cal is late as usual after attending to his alcoholic mother, while Dave, sporting assorted facial injuries from the brawl, runs afoul of his Math teacher. Several other incidents and anecdotes are related as Cal and Dave continue with their morning classes. They finally hook up in shop class where Dave confronts Cal about his relationship with Morris Stratton. Cal is evasive, quickly changing the subject to a weekend party that was attended by Dave's girlfriend, Susan Franks. Dave wants to continue pressing Cal but is too distracted thinking about Susan's duplicitous behaviour. Cal considers confiding in Dave but the moment passes. Dave and Susan share an awkward lunch time in the cafeteria. Later in the day Cal is sent to the principal's office for swearing at another student. At that precise instant Billy Mills and Ralph Renwick, friends of Dave and Cal, let loose with a stream of expletives just outside the office window. A humourous confrontation follows.
CHAPTER 4 - THE COFFEE SHOP Cal, along with the just expelled Ralph and Billy convene at the local teen hangout where they engage in various high jinks with assorted female counterparts and other minor characters. Susan Franks comes in looking for long-haired musician and arena brawl hero Blake Stuart who enters the scene a while after with fellow musician and emerging heart throb, Ray Stephens. In the back of the coffee shop Cal is confronted by one of Morris Stratton's gang who tells him to find out where Blake Stuart is going to be over the weekend. Cal declines but is seen talking to the hood by a gossipy female member of the coffee shop crowd.
CHAPTER 5 - MARY, I MUST HAVE MY SHAWL Ray Stephens and Blake Stuart converse about their band as they traverse a stretch of parkland and greenhouses on their way to separate destinations for the evening. Ray heads off to babysit the son of old family friends while Blake says he is going to practice with another band member. On his way home much later that night, Ray happens upon a couple kissing and cuddling up ahead. Just as he comes within earshot of the amourous pair, a carload of Stratton's hoods pulls up. Ray takes off in the opposite direction with two of the thugs in hot pursuit. The remaining hoods confront the couple, as it turns out, Blake Stuart and Susan Franks. Through Susan's aggressive intervention Blake is spared a beating. The hoods vow to get him next time. Ray is seriously injured while trying to escape his pursuers.
CHAPTER 6 - RUMOURS AND LIES Dave Mitchell enters school on Monday bursting with pride over a hockey playoff win in which he has scored a natural hat trick. He is quickly brought back to earth with the news of Ray Stephens "beating" at the hands of Stratton's minions. Rumours are running rampant in both town high schools. Cal returns to school on Tuesday, having spent the weekend in the sanctity of his woodland treehouse. There he contemplates his past association with Morris Stratton. He is shocked by the news but can't believe Stratton was responsible. Later in the day Dave finds out that Susan has been two-timing him with Blake Stuart. Rather than risking a scene in the halls Susan opts out of the after school sock hop with Dave, arranging to meet him later that evening. Billy Mills and Ralph Renwick create havoc at the sock hop. Susan, as diplomatically as possible, tells Dave they're through.
CHAPTER 7 - THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME The scene shifts between Dave's hockey team's championship game and a break-in/robbery by Morris Stratton and one of his flunkies. Stratton is short-handed on the job as two of his accomplices have been apprehended for petty thievery earlier in the day. There is some speculation that Cal was supposed to be playing a role in the caper. Dave, still reeling from his breakup with Susan and being antagonized by his nemesis, a member of Stratton's gang, plays poorly and the team gets behind early. Stratton and flunky are interrupted in the middle of the robbery and flee down the darkened railway tracks with one of the factory cleaners in pursuit. Earlier in the chapter we receive information about the office cleaners, Jerry and Maida Stryland. Both are Dutch immigrants and former members of the Dutch underground. Dave's team stages a comeback in the late-going, however as they celebrate the apparent game winner, havoc ensues and the subsequent donnybrook initiated by Stratton's goal judging thug causes both teams to be disqualified. In an ironic twist the thug, who was also the cause of Ray Stephen's injury, suffers a similar fate. Back on a railway trestle, high above the swollen river, Stratton and flunky manage to dodge an oncoming train. Unfortunately, the pursuing cleaner is forced to jump from the trestle and drowns in the treacherous whirlpool below the weir. He is the only witness to the robbery.
CHAPTER 8 - AND THEN IT WAS SPRING Change is everywhere this spring with long-haired, guitar-strumming iconoclasts leading the charge against the status quo. Stratton can feel the change in the pit of his stomach. He contemplates the demise of the greaser sub-culture, revealing his own plans for change which involve leaving town and joining a big-time motorcycle gang, the Black Diamond Riders. Cal is plagued by a recurrent nightmare that has increased in both intensity and frequency over the years since the "drowning" incident involving the young boy. He is confronted by the factory cleaner's wife about his knowledge of, or involvement in the factory robbery. She lives on the top floor of the house Cal and his mother are currently renting. As usual he is consumed by guilt even though he claims he was not involved. She manages to extract the names of the individuals Cal believes were responsible. Dave laments his situation at home. His parents have him on an extra-short leash due to his failing grades and the debacle at the hockey championship. Susan Franks relishes her new relationship with Blake Stuart, sharing secrets and girl-talk with her closest friend. Ray Stephens has almost recovered from his injuries and is back rehearsing with the band. He questions his musical abilities and dedication. Cal desperately needs someone to confide in, but all his old gang seems to have problems of their own.
CHAPTER 9 - CONNIE'S PARTY Blake and Ray's band plays at a big house party, impressing all in attendance with their musical prowess. Cal and Dave are there lending support to their old buddies who are much better than they had ever anticipated. Dave is still carrying a torch for Susan and leaves the gathering early unable to watch her have a good time with Blake. Ralph Renwick and Billy Mills are ripped on pot, their first time and get up to the usual shenanigans. Billy falls asleep in the basement crawl-space and almost gives Connie's mother a heart attack when he emerges unannounced the next morning. The party ends in a 4th of July style shower of sparks and explosions when one of the amplifiers fries the house circuitry. The school year comes to a close after a flurry of final exams held in the overheated, oxygen-deprived gymnasium.
CHAPTER 10 - AIN'T NOBODY HERE BUT US CHICKENS Cal lands a summer job at the local poultry plant. It's tough work but he's saving his money so he can board somewhere in town as his mother is planning on leaving Torrington with her new boyfriend. Cal hears through the grapevine that Stratton is leaving town as well. It's as if a giant weight has been lifted from his shoulders. He speculates on better days ahead. That night the coffee shop crowd stages a rave-up followed by a late night game of hide and seek in the flats down by the river. Cal pairs up with his necking partner from the previous year along with her horny best friend. He makes a date with the pair of them for the coming weekend. His life seems to have taken a whole new trajectory. If only he can figure out how to stop the bad dreams.
CHAPTER 11 - TARBABIES Dave is toiling at the asphalt plant along with Ray Stephens who is saving up for a new drum set. Dave is moving in other circles now away from the coffee shop crowd. Although he misses the old gang, he feels diminished in their company, not the game-winning, happy-go-lucky jock he once was. He has a new girlfriend, Barb, whom he takes out for a spin in the vintage MG sports car he's been refurbishing over the summer. Dave and Barb get into an accident, more frightening than damaging. After taking the hysterical female home, Dave runs into Susan Franks. With his new wheels, longer blond locks and summer tan, Susan sees him in an entirely new light. They go off on a long drive in the country, like they've never been apart. It reconfirms his feelings for her. She remains ambivalent for the time being.
CHAPTER 12 - THE LAKE The coffee shop crowd is having a rave-up at the lake. Ray Stephens reminisces about past summers there as he unsuccessfully searches for a new bathing suit. Susan has decided to give Blake Stuart another chance, preparing a picnic feast and daydreaming of an intimate afternoon. Ray and Blake arrive late and inadvertently invite all to share the victuals much to Susan's chagrin. Ray has his eyes on one of the coffee shop lovelies inviting her on a "walk" along the nature trail. From out of nowhere Morris Stratton and his gang arrive and crash the beach party, but soon move on without causing trouble. Cal eventually shows up and sensing a ruse by the hoods, commandeers a canoe so he can warn the others, now out in a flotilla of rowboats in the middle of the lake. He happens upon a pitched sea battle between the hoods and the good guys.
The hoods are in the process of drowning Blake when Cal intervenes and with failing paddle saves the beleaguered longhair. This leads to an aquatic wrestling match between Cal and Stratton, who is soundly thrashed. Dave Mitchell has also arrived on the scene and assists in subduing the hoods. The whole soggy ensemble is apprehended by the conservation authorities who order everyone back to shore where the town police are waiting. Along the way Stratton, still smarting from the beating, accuses Cal of the past drowning of the young immigrant boy and the fire at old lady Patterson's house. All are shocked by the accusations but are unsure of their veracity given the source. Stratton threatens the coffee shop crowd that he'll get them all back, especially Cal. Cal wonders if he should confess all to the police. Rumours about Cal, fuelled by one of the gossipy coffee shop girls, begin to circulate.
CHAPTER 13 - WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION The day before the melee at the lake, Billy Mills and Ralph Renwick head up north on a hitch hiking jaunt. They're aiming for the chick-infested beaches of Huntsville but take a long and circuitous route chock full of humorous side trips with a whacked-out ex-fertilizer salesman, a pair of female wrestlers, and a crazed, car-stealing aboriginal amongst others. They ponder life and love in their own juvenile fashion and in the process reveal additional information about Cal and Morris Stratton. They never make it to their intended destination but end up running into two of the coffee shop girls who have been banished to an aunt's cottage for the rest of the summer as a result of their involvement in the brawl at the lake.
CHAPTER 14 - MAKING PLANS Back in Torrington things have gone quiet after the lake incident. Ray and Blake are rehearsing for their big upcoming gig at "The Purple Candle Club" and considering the ouster of another band member. Susan is plotting to ditch Blake and get back with Dave. Dave has gotten his new girlfriend Barb pregnant. They are nervously making plans for a home abortion. Cal, a virtual outcast with most of the coffee shop crowd, contemplates his options for easing his guilty conscience. They run the gamut from true confessions with the Police Chief to dispensing with Stratton. Stratton is in conference with his number one flunky considering what he should do about Cal. He regrets the accusations in front of so many blabbermouths. He worries that Cal might be inclined to go to the police. His options range from a truce to dispensing with Cal and he instructs the flunky to arrange a meeting. Stratton's plans are overheard by an unnamed female eavesdropper who has plans of her own.
CHAPTER 15 - THE PURPLE CANDLE CLUB Ray and Blake's band, sans one troublesome member, rock the local club which is packed to the rafters with friends and admirers. Ray in particular puts in a stellar performance and is heartily congratulated by the throngs of fans including Ralph and Billy who have just returned from their northern adventures. Susan entices Dave with a provocative rendition of the "Jerk". Dave is smitten, forgetting all about Barb and their problem. The coffee shop crowd proposes one last fling before school starts again. The venue is the town cemetery right after the dance has finished.
CHAPTER 16 - SHOWDOWN AT THE GRAVEYARD Stratton and Cal meet in the town cemetery. They argue about the drowning of the young immigrant boy and the fate of old lady Patterson. Here the actual events of that tragic night are revealed for the first time although it is still unclear to Cal how old lady Patterson ultimately met her end. What does become clear is why the pair covered up the events; the trial and subsequent conviction of thirteen year old Steven Truscott, fresh in their minds at the time of the incident (1962). Stratton comes to a decision as to what to do about Cal, but before he can act the cemetery is invaded by the coffee shop crowd, including Ralph, Billy, and Susan ready to continue the party. Stratton and three of his hoods, who up until now have been hiding, leave the area. Cal takes off in the opposite direction.
Dave Mitchell arrives at the cemetery after dumping Barb who has told him their "baby" troubles are over. Dave is intent on getting back with Susan that very night. Cal, in the process of leaving sees Dave and tries to warn him about Stratton and crew. Instead, Cal runs straight into the three hoods. He draws a switchblade, disabling two of them and chases the third into the depths of the cemetery. Dave misses this bit of action and goes off in search of Susan, running into various groups of revelers along the way. Susan and Blake are off by themselves in a secluded part of the cemetery where she is attempting to terminate the relationship. The pair is ambushed by Morris Stratton who, after rendering them unconscious, prepares to have his way with Susan. Cal and Dave converge on the wooded area at the same time, finding two prostrate bodies. In attempting to revive Blake and Susan they come upon a third body - it's Morris Stratton with his throat slit. Believing he will be fingered for the crime, the switchblade is still firmly within his grasp, Cal takes off. He runs into Ray Stephens on the way out of the cemetery. Ray is the last person in Torrington to see Cal Harding.
EPILOGUE The two old friends continue their dialogue in the bar. It is obvious now that one is Cal Harding. Stratton's killer is revealed along with the recent discovery of the young immigrant boy's body after all these years. The killer turns out to be Jerry the cleaner's wife Maida, who garrotted the hood with a piece of piano wire after stalking him through the wooded cemetery. Cal opines on Stratton and the circumstances surrounding the events. The friend speculates on the impact the incident has had on Cal, He goes on to relate additional news about the coffee shop crowd, Ralph, Billy, Ray, and Susan. He hands Cal his business card, which reads Dave Mitchell. They part company promising to keep in touch. Cal still dreams about Torrington, the people and places of his boyhood, unchanged by time. "And then I see his face, the soft blue eyes, the downy cheeks and rosebud mouth. It haunts me still."
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